Ryan Opera Center of The Lyric Opera of Chicago Celebrates its Fiftieth Anniversary

Grand Finale of the Civic Orchestra in collaboration with Ryan Opera Center, Photo: Elliot Mandel
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If you count yourselves among the fortunate to have experienced a spectacular performance in this Chicago Symphony Center 220 South Michigan Avenue packed house venue featuring the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Members on Monday, June 3 at 7:30 p.m. cheers to you. If you missed The Grand Finale of the Civic Orchestra’s collaboration with Ryan Opera Center my heart goes out to you. You missed a powerful, soul-uplifting, spectacular production.  Do not despair however you have been given a second and third chance to see the Ryan Opera’s phenomenal artists in celebration of their 50th anniversary again. 

Conducter Roberto Kalb leads Civic Orchestra of Chicago

There is a free concert Sunday in the Park at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park on August 25 at 7:00 p.m. The Ryan Opera singers will be featured front and center along with the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by the renowned operatic and symphonic conductor Lyric Music Director Enrique Mazzola. This promises to be a delightful evening of music preview selections for the upcoming season. It is suggested that you bring a blanket and snacks to truly revel in this concert in the park. On April 25, 2025, Lyric hosts its annual Rising Stars in Concert showcasing the 2024/25 Ryan Opera Ensemble with the Lyric Opera Orchestra, again conducted by Enrique Mazzola and directed by Chief Artistic Administration Officer Matthew Ozawa

Soprano Emily Richter and Baritone Ian Richter

The Civic Orchestra was founded in 1919 by Frederick Stock the second music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to prepare emerging professional musicians for lives in music. The charismatic and energetic Roberto Kalb led the orchestra in Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro and Selections from Act 2 of The Marriage of Figaro. This was the perfect comedy opening to showcase the phenomenal talents of the orchestra and singers and immediately engage the audience. Its frenetic pace was extremely popular during Mozart’s lifetime and retains that distinction of being an audience favorite today.

Adia Evans, Soprano

After the intermission, the audience was treated to Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan and Isolde, a modern work that flows and ebbs with harmonic tensions. Giacomo Puccini Act 3 of La Boheme, a libretto based on Henri Murger’s novel Scenes de la vie de Boheme was beautifully performed. Next on the program was a lively rendition of Giuseppe Verdi’s lesser-known operatic music Tarantella From The Lady and the Fool Suite. Following that were excerpts from the highly entertaining Jacques Offenbach’s La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein. The finale fit the bill for the evening. It was a delightful Richard Rodgers “It’s a Grand Night for Singing FROM State Fair” (Arranged by Robert Russell Bennett).

Mezzo-Soprano, Sophia Maekawa

The Ryan Opera Center has been a world preeminent artist development program since 1974 training 300 artists and launching major international careers. It is administered by Director Dan Novak, Music Director Craig Terry, Director of Vocal Studies, Julia Faulkner, and Advisor-at-Large, the famed Renee Fleming. The program receives anywhere from 400-600 applicants annually. Only a handful of emerging elite operatic talented artists are chosen. This year’s ensemble artists were all phenomenal performers. They even received mini standing ovations in between sets before the rousing extended, well-deserved final ovation.

Tenor Travon D. Walker, Mezzo-Soprano Lucy Baker, Baritone Ian Rucker, Baritone Sankara Harouna and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago

The whole ensemble was amazing and I am sure we will be seeing the artists on international stages very soon. The standouts for me were the following artists. Ian Rucker from OshKosh, Wisconsin, is a third-year student. His baritone has such a dramatic, deep rich resonant rounded voice and the fact that he is handsome makes him mesmerizing on stage. Emily Richter, a soprano from Arlington Virginia and national winner of the 2024 Metropolitan Laffont Competition, has an ethereal voice and a commanding presence on stage. Adia Evans of Baltimore is brilliant onstage and her big beautiful voice shines brighter than her sparkling sequinned gown. She is an upcoming star. Singing a duet with her, Daniel Espinal’s mellifluous, expressive tenor voice was filled with fierce passion and connection. Daniel Espinal of Cuban-Dominican Heritage, a tenor from Sarasota, Florida was also a national winner of the 2024 Metropolitan Laffont Competition. The lovely Korean-Australian soprano Gema Nha’s petite stature is in complete contrast to her powerhouse gorgeous vocals. Mezzo-Soprano Lucy Baker from North Carolina has comedy chops. Her moxie stage swagger brought audible audience approval. Bass-baritone Christopher Humbert, Jr. from Akron, Ohio is a striking, imposing presence on stage with a resonant voice. Finn Sagal, Bass-baritone, hailing from La Cañada Flintridge, California is grand as Richard RodgersIt’s a Grand Night for Singing from State Fair which he led and it was a fitting finale to an extraordinary evening. 

The Finale: It’s a Grand Night for Singing from State Fair Ryan Opera Center 2024-25 Ensemble

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s maxim is “All for Music, Music for All” and this motto fits the Civic Orchestra, and the Ryan Opera Center as tickets for this event were available on a “pay what you wish” basis and some concerts are free. For further information on the Ryan Opera Ensemble check out the Lyric link.

Photos Courtesy of: Elliot Mandel


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